Getting Contracting Right
December 2, 2013
- Contracting provides direct support to our warfighters ... our job is to ease the stress and contribute to their success anywhere and at any time, but especially in contingency environments.
Although I am newly appointed as the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement (DASA(P)), a lot of folks in the Army contracting community have probably seen me over the years, as I've been around for a while. In fact, I recently celebrated 33 years of federal service, all of it spent in Army contracting.
I started as an intern at the Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command (DARCOM), the precursor to Army Materiel Command (AMC), at what was then known as the Tank-Automotive Readiness Command (TARCOM), now the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command. I moved up to a contracting officer position in six years and from there into numerous supervisory and leadership positions before becoming the principal assistant responsible for contracting (PARC) at TACOM.
Before I realized it, I had a career. Unlike some, I did not move back and forth between federal agencies or tread into the private sector and return. I fell in love with Army contracting from the very beginning and never looked back. It's what keeps me going, because it continues to be as exciting and challenging as it was when I entered the field back in 1980, right out of college.
CHALLENGES AND ADVENTURES
Army contracting has always had its challenges. In many respects, that's just the nature of the business. In this regard, every position I've held has been a great adventure and, dare I say, even fun! I honestly love the contracting business. One of the most important jobs early in my career, which also happened to be one of my favorite positions, was when I was a first-line supervisor and procuring contracting officer (PCO) at TACOM from 1986 to 1995. In what other position can one have such a critical influence on the purchasing decision and, more important, an impact on the environment and relationship among the government, its contractors and the people you work with on a daily basis?
We've all had vendors tell us they offer the only solution for the U.S. Army; their services are unique; they are the only one that can complete the project on time and on budget. In these situations, it's the PCO who ensures that every contract is executed in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations and that every buy follows the law. Having worked with so many over the years, I am proud to serve with my fellow members of the Army Acquisition Workforce.
This is a great career field for civilians and military personnel. Contracting provides direct support to our warfighters; whether it's ensuring that they have the right equipment and tools, or providing meal and support services, our job is to ease the stress and contribute to their success anywhere and at any time, but especially in contingency environments.
CHANGE OF STATION
For the past six years, I served as the executive director of the U.S. Army Contracting Command (ACC) -- Warren, Mich. What a great place to live and work. (Go, Lions!) In July of this year, when I accepted the DASA(P) position, I did something I really never thought I'd do: I left Michigan. I sold my house, downsized and moved to the National Capital Region (NCR).
Although this marked my first permanent change of station move, it wasn't my first time working in the NCR. Back in 2005, I did a four-month developmental assignment at Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in downtown Washington as the deputy to the contracting director and acting PARC. It was right after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, so I got an unexpected lesson in contingency contracting. This large-scale, natural domestic contingency was far different than the usual developmental assignment, and I learned a lot.
Some may also remember that, about 18 months ago, at the beginning of FY12, I served as ACC's deputy to the executive director, working in Huntsville, AL. It was there that I saw firsthand how the Army contracting enterprise operates and the importance of developing personal and professional relationships between headquarters and field offices. During my assignment, it occurred to me that it would be a great idea to rotate each of the directors in the field through the headquarters in some form or fashion. And here I am, back in the NCR at HQDA. Now it's my turn to spread the word about Army contracting's most important asset-- its people.
I've always believed that our success relates directly to our workforce. We're 7,700 people strong and growing, yet we're a tight community. Many of us have years of training and the highest levels of certification. Others are relatively new members of that community, and those are the people who have my interest at the moment and inspire me every day. They are the next generation of managers, watchdogs, contracting officers and leaders who will continue Army contracting's legacy of being good stewards of American taxpayer dollars. Our continued success rests on their backs, so it's vitally important that we train and develop them to the best of our ability and give them the tools in their rucksack that they'll need to succeed.
'A TOUCH OF OPTIMISM'
As DASA(P), I am truly honored and humbled to serve as your voice within the Army and with DOD senior leaders. It's my responsibility to ensure that every member of the Army contracting workforce has the training, education and resources they need at every phase of their government service. That organizational dedication and commitment is what helped me advance in my career--that, and a touch of optimism, especially when facing unexpected challenges, which happens on a regular basis in our world.
Speaking of challenges, my "honeymoon" in this new position was cut short by the reality of sequestration and furloughs, which have hit all of us across DOD during the 3rd and 4th quarters of FY13. But this reality has never shaken my resolve to continue to portray the many successes of the Army contracting enterprise.
I've been in this business long enough to realize that many folks on the Hill and in the media and those charged with investigating our business don't always have the full picture of Army contracting. They tend to focus on resourcing, oversight, fraud, waste and abuse, which is necessary. What they don't always understand is that if left unchecked, reductions and hiring freezes will increase the Army's exposure to risk, which leads directly to opportunities for fraud, waste and abuse of the contracting process.
How do we change that perception? If we are truly going to influence change, the entire Army contracting enterprise must sing from the same sheet of music so that our collective voices can be heard. There's no doubt that we have an uphill battle, but it's a battle worth our time and energy to pursue. Rectifying and correcting many long-standing deficiencies that have been overshadowed by urgent requirements and the needs of those fighting multiple wars on various fronts will not be easy, but nothing worthwhile comes without effort.
Let me share the principles that will steer my leadership of the Office of the DASA(P):
• A continued dedication to improving the size and quality of the workforce. As we all know, the contracting officer has the most critical job in contracting, and all policy and guidance issued from headquarters must consider the contracting officer.
• An ongoing dedication to contracting as a vital mission-enabler, a team player in the acquisition process. Our contracting cadre at all levels must accept this role and become involved early in the acquisition process. Each buying command must be allowed to continue to staff and recruit high-quality individuals with the skill sets needed to further the initiatives and strategies that posture the acquisition and contracting community for the future, especially as it relates to hard-to-fill 1102 series and 51C positions. Given the hiring freeze, our work is cut out for us in this area.
• A continued commitment to properly positioning Army contracting so that it is free from undue influence and routinely advises and influences leadership decisions. There is no question that oversight and administration of contracts and the contracting process are necessary, and that "getting contracting right" is fundamental to the success of our Army and the warfighter.
Let me close by saying I am excited about the opportunity to have a positive impact on Army contracting for the future. I look forward to working with the many acquisition experts across the Army and DOD in shaping our ability to continue improving the quality and capability of our workforce and the resulting quality of our contracting efforts. I think we'd all like to be recognized as the generation that paved the way by making Army contracting just a bit better for those who follow in our footsteps.